Ex-British soldier to be charged in Bloody Sunday killings
James Wray, William McKinney killed when soldiers opened fire on unarmed protesters
A former British soldier will be prosecuted for the murders of two unarmed Catholic civil rights protesters in Northern Ireland more than 40 years ago, part of an event known as Bloody Sunday.
On Jan. 30, 1972, British troops opened fire during an unauthorized march in the Bogside, a nationalist area of Londonderry. They killed 13 people and wounded 14 others, one of whom died later. The victims were all unarmed Catholics.
One former soldier, identified as Soldier F, was one of 17 former members of the 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment whose actions in Londonderry, also known as Derry, were being considered for criminal charges.
He is to be charged with two murders and four attempted murders during Bloody Sunday, the event that is the focus of the U2 song Sunday Bloody Sunday.
The Public Prosecution Service of Northern Ireland said on Thursday there was enough evidence to prosecute Soldier F in the deaths of James Wray and William McKinney. The soldier will also face charges for the attempted murders of Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O'Donnell.
The PPS said there was insufficient evidence to prosecute 16 other soldiers and two official IRA men. One other soldier involved has since died.
The Widgery Tribunal, held in the immediate aftermath of the incident, largely cleared the soldiers of blame. But a second, 12-year investigation known as the Saville inquiry found they did not act in self-defence and there was no justification for the killings of 13 unarmed demonstrators protesting Britain's detention of suspected Irish nationalists.
"None of the casualties was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury, or indeed was doing anything else that could on any view justify their shooting," the report said.
One of Saville's more damning conclusions was that Wray was shot once as he ran away, and once as he was on the ground.
'Strict rules of evidence'
But the results of the Saville inquiry, which concluded in 2010, could not be used in any prosecution, and Thursday's charges resulted from a separate police investigation into the incident.
"Much of the material which was available for consideration by the inquiry is not admissible in criminal proceedings due to strict rules of evidence that apply," Stephen Herron, director of public prosecutions for Northern Ireland, said as he announced the charges.
The decision not to prosecute other individuals, he said, "in no way diminishes" any of the findings of the inquiry.
"We recognize the deep disappointment felt by many of those we met with today," he said.
Victims' families said they were disappointed by the decision. Their lawyers said they would challenge in the High Court any prosecutorial decision that did not withstand scrutiny.
Geraldine Doherty, a relative of Bloody Sunday victim Gerald Donaghy, said the prosecution was 47 years overdue and did not go far enough.
"The scope of the new police investigation was not wide enough, and we assert that the repeated failure to properly investigate the actions of those who planted nail bombs on the body of my uncle, 17-year-old Gerald Donaghy, is unacceptable," she said at a news conference. "The Saville report left a stain on Gerald's innocence that this investigation could have removed, but it did not do so. We repeat our call for this injustice to be addressed."
Mickey McKinney, brother of one of the victims, said: "We would like to remind everyone that no prosecution, or if it comes to it, no conviction, does not mean not guilty, it does not mean that no crime was committed, it does not mean that those soldiers acted in a dignified and appropriate way."
Supporters of the soldiers say they were acting under extremely confused and stressful conditions, and it is unfair to pursue them so long after the events.
Britain's Ministry of Defence said it would help defend the ex-soldier, while working to reform the system for investigating allegations of past misdeeds by the military. Veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have also faced prosecution in the U.K. years after the alleged events.
"The welfare of our former service personnel is of the utmost importance and we will offer full legal and pastoral support to the individual affected by today's decision," Williamson said in a statement on Thursday.
"The government will urgently reform the system for dealing with legacy issues. Our serving and former personnel cannot live in constant fear of prosecution."
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said it was important that no one said anything to prejudice the process following Thursday's decision, adding that his thoughts were with all of the families.
Every civilian who died or was injured on Bloody Sunday was an innocent victim who posed no danger to anyone. My thoughts are with all of their families right now. A decision has been made today to pursue a prosecution and it is very important that no one prejudice that process.—@simoncoveney
Bloody Sunday has come to symbolize "the Troubles" in Northern Ireland, the long-running conflict between mainly Roman Catholic supporters of a united Ireland and predominantly Protestant forces that want to remain part of the United Kingdom.
The 1998 Good Friday Agreement brought an official close to the conflict in which about 3,500 people were killed. The peace accord created a system for Republican and Unionist parties to share power in Northern Ireland, but tensions still persist, and a car bomb exploded outside Londonderry's main courthouse in January. No one was injured.
The decision to prosecute came a week after Britain's minister for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, was forced to apologize for saying that killings by British soldiers and police were "not crimes."
Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the IRA which is now the largest nationalist party in the province, said it shared the families' disappointment and "sense of incredulity" at the decision.
"The decision to prosecute just one ex-soldier does not change the fact that Bloody Sunday was a massacre of innocents," Sinn Fein's Northern Ireland leader Michelle O'Neill said in a statement.
With files from Reuters